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Cinnamon has long been a spice staple of kitchens everywhere, giving a subtle kick to rolls and breads and other homemade goodies. But as it turns out, the benefits of cinnamon could go beyond its warming flavor. A new study out of the Rush University Medical Center in California has found that consuming more of the spice can improve your ability to learn new things.
Published in the July issue of Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, the results showed that cinnamon is able to improve the learning ability in even the poorest of learners. Scientists at Rush University fed cinnamon to laboratory mice who had previously been determined to have a lower learning capacity. After being fed the spice, the learning ability of these mice was improved. Utilizing a Barnes maze, researchers evaluated the rodent's ability to find a designated hole in the maze after a couple days training. After being fed cinnamon for a month, the lower performing mice were able to memorize the much more quickly and effectively.
"Understanding brain mechanisms that lead to poor learning is important to developing effective strategies to improve memory and learning ability," lead researcher Kalipada Pahan, PhD, says. Cinnamon could "be one of the safest and the easiest approaches to convert poor learners to good learners," she adds.
Pahan says that her team's experiment "successfully used cinnamon to reverse biochemical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with poor learning." But how does this work? According to Science Daily, the part of the brain responsible for memory—and, correspondingly, learning—is the hippocampus. Researchers have previously found that those who are poorer learners contain less of a protein called CREB in their hippocampus, which is involved in memory and learning. One possible reason for cinnamon's effect on the ability to learn is that the spice, when metabolized, is converted into sodium benzoate, a chemical that increases CREB protein in the brain.
Though the researchers at Rush warn that more testing is needed to determine whether cinnamon has a similar effect on humans, Pahan notes that "if these results are replicated in poor learning students, it would be a remarkable advance." No word yet on if participants in the cinnamon challenge now exhibit superhuman learning ability.